Thursday, March 18, 2004

Hey Graydon, where are the African Americans?

Several years back I altogether stopped sending out my annual "Letter to the Editor" email criticizing Vanity Fair for the lack of African Americans, especially on the cover, and especially in their 'Hollywood issue.' It was a futile quest to get someone to listen and actually do something more than send out an obligatory response to reader email backed up with naught else but hot air. I saved this little chestnut, though, I think it was my last attempt at satisfaction, from the long suffering and saintly Heather Fink, dated April 24, 2000:

"Dear Mr. Mwangaguhunga,

"Thank you very much for your letter to the editor. We have received
letters regarding this matter, and I will be sure to address this point
with the
appropriate editors here. I appreciate your input and hope that you
expressing your opinions to Vanity Fair.


Heather Fink"

Greeeaaat. I'm glad I shared.

Of course, my problem is not with Heather Fink, who was polite, but couldn't change the situation, no, my issue was with her boss Graydon Carter, who I snark on from time to time in this blog, but for whom I ultimately hold no hard feelings against. Look -- there is no one suggesting that anything is wrong with Graydon on the issue of race, that's crazy talk. I'm just saying that Graydon is not representing African Americans on the cover of VF; and that smarts. It is his privilege as an editor, but it is a kind of stupid thing for a so-called libertarian to do to his legacy. Hollywood itself is not as white as Graydon paints it.

I just cannot believe that Matthew McConaughey and Gretchen Moll deserve covers more than Chris Rock, Chris Tucker, Halle Berry or even Janet Jackson.

I mean -- Fuck! -- even Sandra Bullock, she of the linebackerish looks -- got a cover!

The argument that nobody would ever make in public is that covers of African Americans sell less than covers of white celebs: Ruben Stoddard was the worst selling RS cover in 2003, and Serena Williams the worst selling SI cover in 2003. But last year's best/worst cover list is closing the gap of this very sad but true industry fact. I've worked in magazines for 9 years, I know the game.

But Roger Friedman of Fox 411 who I knighted an honorary black man on Monday does a fine job in explaining why VF was snubbed by the National Magazine Awards:

"'It's because Graydon's so obsessed with Hollywood,' said one insider, referring to Carter's sometimes embarrassing preference for celebrity profiles over actual journalism.

"Beth Kseniak, director of public relations for Vanity Fair, said, 'I can't remember when we didn't have a nomination. But we've been very fortunate in previous years and we congratulate the nominees.'

"One aspect of criticism about Vanity Fair is its obliviousness to cultures other than its own. In the March 'Hollywood' issue, 13 famous actresses graced the cover, not one of them African-American. As well, Vanity Fair has not featured an individual black person on the cover in several years.

"Kseniak responded, 'We were supposed to have Halle Berry, but she backed out at the last minute.'"

Okay VF, now is your opportunity. The African American contribution to the entertainment industry in America and the world is vast. Could you refelect that just a little bit more?

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